TIME faith

Gay Marriage in Ireland Isn’t a ‘No’ to Catholicism

Many who voted “yes” on gay marriage did so because of their faith—not in spite of it

Ireland’s historic decision to pass gay marriage by popular vote Saturday has led many to question the strength of the Catholic Church in the land of St. Patrick. For example, The Telegraph’s Tim Stanley wrote that Ireland’s “yes” to gay marriage was a “no” to Catholicism. But such simplistic reductions miss the complex and evolving Catholic worldview on civil gay marriage.

Pope Francis began this evolution shortly after his election in July 2013 when he said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Dublin’s Catholic archbishop Diarmuid Martin went even further last year: “Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that—they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people.”

Though Martin didn’t support the gay marriage referendum, he did call for creative approaches to address the issue and pushed back against what he thought were unfair attacks on the gay community during the debate. He went as far to say that some comments were “not just intemperate but obnoxious, insulting and unchristian in regard to gay and lesbian people.”

The vote in Ireland illuminates a dynamic shift on LGBT issues among Catholics and people of faith across the globe. Today about 60% of Catholics in the United States support gay marriage, compared to about 36% a decade ago.

In fact, many who voted “yes” on gay marriage did so because of their faith, not in spite of it. One elderly Irish couple put it this way: “We are Catholics, and we are taught to believe in compassion and love and fairness and inclusion. Equality, that’s all we’re voting for.”

The idea of an inclusive Catholic Church may have seemed like a pipe dream not many years ago, but under the tenure of Francis the Troublemaker, it doesn’t seem that farfetched. Two summers ago the Pope tweeted, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

On the eve of Pentecost, it seems that Ireland has taken that message to heart and sent an unmistakable message to the Church and society at large: A community that excludes anyone is no community at all.

TIME faith

The Theology of a Biker Gang

What happened in Waco is a microcosm of our world situation

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Five rival biker gangs descended upon a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas on Sunday. Hundreds of gang members began stabbing, beating, and shooting each other. Weapons included chains, knives, clubs, and guns. When the fight ended, 9 people were dead, 18 were sent to the hospital, and more than 170 people were arrested.

Waco police Sargent W. Patrick Swanton stated, “In my nearly 35 years of law enforcement experience, this is the most violent and gruesome scene that I have dealt with.”

One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the US.

And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:

God forgives. Bandidos don’t.

We can easily dismiss that slogan as a biker gangs attempt to intimidate, but do not dismiss it. That pithy statement tells a profound truth about both God and humanity.

Anthropology of a Biker Gang: Bandidos Don’t Forgive

Let’s start with the anthropology. When it comes to forgiveness, we are all much more like a biker gang than we’d like to admit. Take what happened in Waco, for example. A group of rival gangs come together to fight because they have a relationship based on hostility. They refuse to forgive because biker gangs respond to violence with violence. That’s the pattern that they have developed.

It’s not just biker gangs who have that violent pattern. We all do. Violence is a human problem. For example, our political and judicial systems are based on that pattern. The same principle of retaliation that consumes biker gangs also consumes our culture.

Biker gangs such as the Bandidos are a violent and evil menace to society precisely because they refuse to forgive. And whenever we refuse to forgive, we become just like a violent and evil biker gang that is a menace to society.

Bandidos don’t forgive because we don’t forgive. Whenever someone insults us, we tend to insult back. When someone hits us, we tend to hit back. When someone attacks our country, we attack back. That’s the reciprocal pattern we tend to fall into when it comes to violence. For example, will our society respond to Sunday’s biker gang violence with forgiveness? No, we will respond with violent punishment of our own – maybe even the death penalty. Which leads me to ask some question:

How would the biker gang situation be different if one of the gangs decided to respond with forgiveness?

How would my life be different if I responded to insults with forgiveness?

How would the world situation be different if on 9/11 the United States decided to respond with forgiveness?

We will never know the answer to that last question. But what we do know is that our violent response didn’t solve the problem of violence that we face; in fact, it may only have perpetuated it.

Theology of a Biker Gang: God Forgives

And here’s the good news: God forgives. The theological truth of the Bandidos slogan is that God isn’t like us. God doesn’t hold on to grudges. God forgives.

But please understand that God’s forgiveness doesn’t make violence okay. Rather, it stops the cycle of violence by refusing to play the game. The best example of God’s radical forgiveness is on the cross. Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

God forgives.

That’s true. But the truth that the Bandidos biker gang doesn’t understand, and what we so often fail to understand as well, is that God calls us to participate in a culture of divine forgiveness, as opposed to a culture of human violence. The first step is to realize that we all have a tendency toward violence in thought, word, and deed; and so we are all in need of receiving God’s forgiveness. Then, as we receive from God’s well of abundant forgiveness, we are able to share that forgiveness with others.

There is an urgency in our current situation. What happened between 5 biker gangs in Waco is a microcosm of our world situation. Our hope in the face of violence is in following the God of radical forgiveness. As René Girard prophetically says in his book The Scapegoat, “The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be enough time.”

Adam Ericksen has been the Director of Education at the Raven Foundation since its founding. He received his Masters in Theological Studies from Garrett Evangelical Seminary and has been the Youth Pastor at a UCC church since 2006. Adam’s interests include interfaith dialogue and using mimetic theory to read the Quran. He is the husband of Carrie, father of three, is 5’10, has brown eyes and does enjoy long walks on the beach. You can follow him on Twitter @adamericksen, friend him on Facebook, or do whatever people do on LinkedIn and Google+.

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TIME faith

Michigan Pastor Resigns After Sharing Photos on Gay Dating App

The pastor, who is married with five children, had shared photos on Grindr

A Lutheran pastor in Michigan resigned recently after being caught sending messages on a mobile gay dating app, according to report on the local news site M Live. The pastor, Rev. Matthew Makela from Midland, is married with five children and has spoken of being gay as a “sinful temptation.”

In posts on the dating and hookup app Grindr, Makela said he was looking to “mess around” with a guy and sent shirtless photos. Screenshots of the conversation with an unidentified user found their way to the gay news site Queerty.

A letter on the website of St. John’s Lutheran Church, where Makela worked, acknowledged Makela’s resignation and asked members of the congregation not to pay attention to discussions of Makela on social media or on the news.

“This changes nothing. Matt is still forgiven and he is still loved, and we will do what we can to stand by him and the family as they face this spiteful attack of shame,” the letter said. “God is bigger than this and will see us through.”

[M Live]

TIME faith

The Gospel According to B.B. King

In this file photo taken Aug. 22, 2012, B.B. King performs at the 32nd annual B.B. King Homecoming, a concert on the grounds of an old cotton gin where he worked as a teenager in Indianola, Miss.
Rogelio V Solis—AP In this file photo taken Aug. 22, 2012, B.B. King performs at the 32nd annual B.B. King Homecoming, a concert on the grounds of an old cotton gin where he worked as a teenager in Indianola, Miss.

"I’m awed by his handiwork, the forests and oceans and sky that surrounds us"

Legendary blues artist B.B. King died last night at the age of 89.

King’s influence on American music can’t be overstated. Through his dirt-road voice and exuberant guitar work (often on his famed favorite Gibson guitar Lucille), King brought the blues to mainstream audiences. You can read The New York Times‘ obituary of King here, but for my money, King might’ve been one of the greatest American musicians ever, ranking alongside the likes of Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Billie Holiday.

The blues themselves are, of course, quintessentially American—the yin to gospel music’s yang that, together, undergird jazz and rock. And I think there’s a little gospel in the blues themselves. Few blues songs reference God or Jesus directly, of course: They’re laments of a life or a love gone wrong, a beautiful, primal sigh. But that’s what many Psalms did back in their day, too: They were anguished, pit-of-the-soul cries set to music about heartbreak and angst and despair. The Psalms were painfully honest, just like the blues. And under each, I think, you find an underlying sliver of hope—hope in a brighter, better day. For many blues artists, including King, that hope was pinned on Jesus.

King was a Christian who, as a boy, sang in a gospel choir and was inspired by his own pastor to pick up the guitar. “I believe all musical talent comes from God as a way to express beauty and human emotion,” he once said according to Christian Today. He had a lot to say about God and faith, according to the story. And I loved what he said about God’s creation.

“I believe God created everything. I’m awed by his handiwork, the forests and oceans and sky that surrounds us. I believe God made us. But our nature isn’t always godlike.”

When I heard about King’s death this morning, my mind didn’t float back to any of King’s classic songs—”Don’t Answer the Door” or “The Thrill is Gone” or “Why I Sing the Blues.” I remembered “When Love Comes to Town,” King’s duet with Bono and U2. Bono wrote the song specifically for King, and musically, it’s a meeting at the corner of the blues and gospel music. A shout of joy when the chains of sin have fallen away. On the version I have on my iPhone, King growls out these lyrics:

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide

What follows isn’t the version I’m most familiar with. But it’s still pretty cool.

Paul Asay is an author, journalist, and entertainment critic who now serves as a senior associate editor for the popular Christian entertainment review site Plugged In. He has been published in a variety of other secular and Christian publications, including The Washington Post, The Gazette in Colorado Springs, YouthWorker Journal and Beliefnet.com. You can follow Paul on Twitter (@AsayPaul), visit his website or just think nice, happy thoughts about him in your spare time.

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TIME religious freedom

Republican Party to Vote in Support of Religious-Freedom Laws

Protesters
Doug McSchooler—AP Thousands of opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, gather on the lawn of the Indiana state house to rally against that legislation on March 28, 2015

The GOP follows presidential candidates as issue takes hold on campaign trail

The Republican National Committee is expected to approve a resolution Thursday reaffirming support for so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, undeterred by controversy in Indiana and Arkansas over whether such measures sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Resolution Affirming Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) passed through the RNC’s resolutions committee Wednesday during the RNC’s spring meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., and will be voted on by the full 168-member governing body Friday. The party traditionally votes on all resolutions as a package, and the RFRA resolution is expected to pass with little or no opposition.

“The Republican National Committee stands firm in upholding natural, human, constitutional, and, under the RFRA, statutory rights of religious freedom,” the resolution states.

A nationwide firestorm erupted after Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a RFRA resolution into law that critics contended would allow business owners with religious objections to opt out of servicing same-sex weddings. Indiana’s resolution went further than the federal statute, which has been on the books since the Clinton administration. A similar controversy in Arkansas led to Governor Asa Hutchinson demanding changes to the law to bring it in line with the federal statute before signing it.

The cautiously worded RNC resolution encourages states to mirror the federal law, rather than the controversial Indiana version.

“The Republican National Committee supports and encourages States’ actions to enact laws that mirror the federal RFRA to protect citizens’ rights to lead all aspects of their lives according to their deeply held religious beliefs,” it states.

The resolution comes as the issue of religious freedom has become a significant conversation piece on the presidential campaign trail.

“The Republican Party will always stand for and defend religious freedom,” RNC press secretary Allison Moore tells TIME.

Separate RNC resolutions expected to pass Friday include one supporting Republican lawmakers in their criticism of the emerging nuclear agreement between the Obama Administration and Iran, and another calling for the replacement of the Administrative Procedure Act, a law that sets how executive agencies propose and enact regulations.

Yet another resolution reaffirms the party’s neutrality in the presidential nominating procedure, even as the RNC has seized control of the debate process. The party and television networks hosting the early debates this summer are struggling with how to include a field of more than a dozen candidates on stage.

TIME faith

If America Became a Christian Nation

They probably wouldn't like what it looks like

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With political season kicking off again, so is the season where folks begin to use the term “Christian nation.” Some claim we were one, some claim we are one, and some say we need to become one. Yet, each time I hear that phrase I have an inner Princess Bride moment where I say to myself, “you keep using that word, but it doesn’t mean what you think it means.”

Because truth be told, if America actually were to become a Christian nation, I don’t think the people who advocated for it would be too happy with the end product. Since Christian is supposed to mean “little Christ” or “Christ follower,” we actually have a way to offer some clear cut examples of what a Christian nation would look like– because all we have to do is look at what Jesus taught, and how Jesus lived, as a model to pattern national behavior.

So, what if we became a Christian nation? Well, a few things would have to change… drastically. Here’s a few quick examples:

We’d Have To Abolish the 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd Amendment is so beloved by American Christians that this alone would likely be the sticking point preventing us from ever becoming a Christian nation. Jesus taught his disciples that they were to never use violence to respond to evil (Matthew 5:39) and that they were to actively love their enemies. He also lived a life of nonviolent enemy love as a model for us to follow– and living our lives patterned after how he lived his is the ultimate proof that we belong to God (1John 2:6). A Christian nation would have no room for the 2nd Amendment.

We’d Have to Replace the Department of Defense with the Department of Enemy Love.

Refraining from killing one’s enemies is just part of the package with Jesus- he also taught that enemy love was to be an active love. He taught his disciples that they were to bless their enemies, serve their enemies, and actively do good things for them. In this regard, disbanding our military would be the first thing a Christian nation would do, but the second thing would be that they would begin actively loving enemies. Converting the Department of Defense into the Department of Enemy Love and using those billions of dollars to bless the world- particularly the Muslim world- would be a good start towards having a nation that looked like Jesus.

We’d Have to End Capital Punishment.

Of course, there would be no capital punishment in a Christian Nation because Christ is the one who disrupted a public execution and told the executioners that only a perfect person was qualified to serve in the role of executioner (John 8:7). This means the role of legitimate executioners has been vacant ever since, and would not exist in a Christian nation.

Eradicating Poverty Would Be One of Our Most Pressing Concerns.

In Matthew 25 Jesus gives us a picture of the final judgement day, and describes the scene as he gathers “all nations” before him. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending which side you end up on) Jesus doesn’t give the nations a theology exam. However, he does judge them based upon whether or not they took care of the poor and vulnerable– and those who did not (professing Christians) are told to “depart.” A Christian nation would remember that feeding hungry people is one of the boxes on Jesus’s judgement day score card.

We’d Freely Care for the Sick.

Healing people of illnesses was one of the central aspects of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Any nation worthy of calling itself a Christian nation would also be a nation who freely and indiscriminately provided healthcare for the sick and lame, just as Jesus. Jesus even freely healed a man who was paralyzed because of his own stupid life choices (John 5:14), so any Christian nation would be extremely generous in the provision of healthcare.

We’d Become The Most Loving Nation Toward Immigrants.

That passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus judges the nations? Welp, one of the other items on the score sheet is “welcoming immigrants” (Matthew 25:35). A Christian nation would be seen as the most pro-immigrant nation on earth.

We’d Do Away with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Kids all across the country begin their days by standing, facing a piece of fabric, and taking a pledge to give their allegiance to it. In a Christian nation however, we would recognize that it is impossible to serve two masters and would be repulsed at the idea of pledging our allegiance to anyone but Jesus himself. Furthermore, we wouldn’t take oaths in a Christian nation (Matthew 5:34), so the entire practice of pledging allegiance to the flag would seem creepy to us.

We’d Pay Our Taxes Without Complaining About It.

It seems many of those who think they want America to be a Christian nation see taxation as a form of thievery, but when Jesus weighed in on the issue (speaking within a culture that had a high taxation rate) he simply noted that we should pay to Caesar whatever belongs to him. Jesus had his big moment to expose the evils of taxation and missed it- essentially telling his followers to pay it and move on. In a Christian nation, we’d all be like Jesus: telling people to pay their taxes.

As over-the-top as some of these seem, they’re all things that Jesus directly taught and modeled for us to emulate. Any Christian nation, by definition, would have to be a nation that lived out the teachings and example of Jesus, and would be a radical anomaly on the world scene.

So, politicians can use the term “Christian nation” all they want, but I don’t think any of them understand what the term actually means– nor do I think any of them would find a Christian nation appealing.

A Christian nation doesn’t exist, nor will one ever exist. However, the Kingdom of God does exist, right here, right now– and you’re invited to live within it, where all of those above things are lived and practiced already.

Benjamin L. Corey holds a Master of Arts in Theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, a Master of Arts in World Missions (Cum Laude), also from Gordon-Conwell, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society. Ben is currently completing his doctorate at Fuller Seminary in the field of missiology. In addition to writing for Patheos Progressive Christian, Ben is a contributor for: TIME, Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, Mennonite World Review, and The Good Men Project. He has also been featured as a guest on HuffPost Live, the Drew Marshall Show, and Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang. Ben is a syndicated author with MennoNerds, a collective of some of the top Mennonite & Anabaptist voices today.

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TIME faith

Fewer Americans Calling Themselves Christians, Survey Finds

USA, Vermont, Sharon, Sharon Congregational Church
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Trend is driven by Millennials, around one third of whom claim to be religiously unaffiliated

The share of Americans calling themselves Christians has dropped sharply in recent years, according to a new Pew Research Center survey — while the population of religiously unaffiliated adults has risen.

Though more Christians call America home than any other country, the percentage of American adults identifying as Christians has fallen from 78.4% in 2007 to about 70.6%. Meanwhile, over one in five (22.8%) say they are unaffiliated with any faith, a 6.7% percentage point jump since 2007.

Pew finds the Millennial generation is leading the decline in religious affiliation, though adults of all ages and across all demographic groups are steering away from Christianity. About 36% of Americans between 18 and 24 claim to be religiously unaffiliated, along with some 34% of Americans between 24 and 33.

Protestants and Catholics experienced the greatest drop in population, according to the survey, with populations declining respectively by 5 and 3 million people. There has, however, been a bump in the number of Evangelical Christians in the U.S.—Pew estimates that population has grown by 2 million since 2007.

The survey is Pew’s second to examine the religious landscape of America. The survey seeks to fill a gap left by the Census, which does not question Americans’ religious affiliation. A little over 35,000 adults were interviewed for the survey, which has a margin of error of 0.6 percentage points.

TIME Culture

The Modern Day Scarlet Letter

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"We no longer have the kind cruel civic Christianity that The Scarlet Letter depicted, yet we still have the shaming scaffolds"

In the April 1886 issue of The Atlantic Monthly Julian Hawthorne, son of Nathaniel, reviewed his father’s The Scarlett Letter. Towards the conclusion of his stunning, 9,000+ word essay, the younger Hawthorne reflected on the moral irony of Hester Prynne’s world:

This [the scarlet A] is her punishment, the heaviest that man can afflict upon her. But, like all legal punishment, it aims much more at the protection of society than at the reformation of the culprit. Hester is to stand as a warning to others tempted as she was: if she recovers her own salvation in the process, so much the better for her; but, for better or worse, society has ceased to have any concern with her.

“We trample you down,” society says in effect to those who break its laws, “not by any means in order to save your soul,—for the welfare of that problematical adjunct to your civic personality is a matter of complete indifference to us,—but because, by some act, you have forfeited your claim to our protection, because you are a clog to our prosperity, and because the spectacle of your agony may discourage others of similar unlawful inclinations.”

But it is obvious, all the while, that the only crime which society recognizes is the crime of being found out, since a society composed of successful hypocrites would much more smoothly fulfill all social requirements than a society of such heterogeneous constituents as (human nature being what it is) necessarily enter into it now.

Likely as we are as 21st century Americans to congratulate ourselves for not behaving the way our Puritan ancestors did, things aren’t as different as you might think. Millennials may be an urbane, diverse and “tolerant” generation, but they are also caught in a vicious cultural mire of shaming, vindictiveness, and postmodern puritanical preening that rivals their 17th century ancestors.

Owing largely to the recent publication of Jon Ronson’s well-reviewed book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, some light is being shed on the cavernous world of social media “shaming,” a merciless phenomenon that is more common and more serious than many—perhaps most—believe. Of course, few people would be surprised to learn there are dark corners of the internet or that digital anonymity can bring out the worst in people. But the problem of public shaming goes beyond meanness. In its worst manifestations, shaming is a weapon wielded by volunteer morality gatekeepers to, as Julian Hawthorne put it, “trample you down.”

Ronson’s work has resulted in the publication of several frightening stories, such as what happened to Justine Sacco. Yet few commentators on this social phenomenon–including Ronson–seem willing to explore shaming’s causes or offer a serious moral worldview of public confrontation. Listening to shaming stories is important, of course, but we are not likely to overcome this vicious trend if we cannot speak in clear and objective language about it.

Julian Hawthorne’s insights into his father’s novel might be helpful in remedying our deficient understanding of contemporary public shaming. Hawthorne is on to something when he identifies the public shaming of Hester Prynne as non-redemptive and merely the removal of a “clog” from the engine of the culture. The hypocrisy of the moral authorities of Puritan Boston was not only that they were guilty of sin as well, but that they turned sinners away from the society and the hope of redemption under the pretense of holiness.

In the case of online shaming, this is even more apparent. What happens in social media is far from the reconciliatory purpose of confrontation as taught by Jesus in Matthew 16. As Ronson notes in his chilling accounts, the purpose of social media shaming seems to be to deluge an offending person(s) with enough derision and scorn that they are forced to disappear from the public eye in a kind of enforced penitence. Social media shaming is not at all meant for reconciliation or personal healing; quite the opposite, in fact—the more offense and outrage can be generated, the better. Exacerbating all this is a communication medium that rewards participants not for temperance, patience and forbearance, but for immediacy and cleverness. If outrage is the currency of social media, shaming is a blue-chip stock.

As Hawthorne writes, the impulse behind the shaming of Hester Prynne was not a desire for moral rectitude but removal of a cultural wart. If the sinner is removed from the public square, the people can resume trusting in the merits of their membership in society. This contra-benevolent desire to keep the community free of anything that disturbs a narrative of cultural holiness is remarkably descriptive of much of our culture-warring today. Consider the astonishing absolutism with which some proponents of same-sex marriage engage those who disagree with them. In many cases, the motivations are made explicit: Opinions which contradict a majoritarian view on sexuality must be exiled out of the public square. What is this, if not a Puritanical impulse to keep society “pure” and maintain the citizenry’s religious faith in it?

The Scarlet Letter’s context was, of course, a Christian-Puritan one. That is not the case in our American culture today. Instead of an assumed, civic Christianity, the country is embracing an assumed, civic secularism. Traditional religious beliefs are welcomed as long as they are not exposed to the population at large. Keeping certain beliefs isolated from the mainstream of culture–thereby maintaing a sort of doctrinally “pure” public square–is often peddled under misleading language about “separation of church and state.” What is really happening is the substitution of one culturally-ruling philosophy for another.

In other words, we still have Puritanism today, only of a secular kind.

Our progressive sensibilities have not, alas, resulted in a genuinely compassionate culture. We no longer have the kind cruel civic Christianity that The Scarlet Letter depicted, yet we still have the shaming scaffolds (they’re called social media now) and we still have ineffable moral codes that must not be trespassed. These codes may not be Levitical but they are indeed legalistic: laws about privilege, sexual autonomy, “trigger warnings,” and much, much more. Violation of these laws can and do result not only in public shame but legal prosecution.

It surely must befuddle those on the inside track of our transforming culture—just as we seem to be learning what true progress is, we rebuild the shaming scaffolds of our Puritan forefathers. Can we not have a culture that embraces the moral equivalence of all forms of sexual expression, the existential (read: non-transcendent) nature of love, and the casting off of ancient beliefs about God and the universe, while simultaneously widening the margins of civic life to include all kinds of beliefs, even those that discomfort us? Cannot we live out the promises of the Sexual Revolution while saving a place in our midst for those who opt out?

No, we cannot. The reason is simple: A broken American conscience cannot be trusted. Compassion is a class that secularism doesn’t offer. Exchanging the Puritanism of Arthur Dimmesdale for the Puritanism of Alfred Kinsey is not progress. Cultural elites may say we are becoming a better people because we break with human history on the meaning of marriage or the dignity of human life, but a glance outside suggests otherwise.

Samuel James serves as Communications Specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition to his main blog on Patheos, Samuel’s writing has also been featured on The Christian Post, World Magazine, The Gospel Coalition, Canon and Culture, Mere Orthodoxy, Real Clear Religion, Commonwealth Policy Center, Jesus Freak Hideout and other places. Samuel is a lifelong resident of Kentucky and is a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville. A longer version of this essay first appeared at samueldjames.net.

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TIME faith

5 Challenges Atheists Face

We have a bad reputation

Yesterday was Openly Secular Day and Tom Krattenmaker used the opportunity to bring up five challenges atheists still face.

I wanted to summarize his points and add a few thoughts of my own:

1) Even though we’re despised in some parts of the country and discriminated against in some ways, we don’t really get bullied or picked on. That makes it harder to gain sympathy for our views.

Krattenmaker is right (and I’m glad he is, because the alternative would be awful). We often make a lot of comparisons between our movement and the LGBT movement, and this is one area where that just falls apart. LGBT individuals have it much worse than we do on this front. (For that reason, I don’t buy the notion that the treatment of atheists is “America’s last prejudice.”)

That said, how do we make people more likely to trust us or consider us electable? Atheists who have the opportunity to do so need to talk more about their values and share stories about what they’re gone through. We have to find a way to get people who might disagree with us about God to be on our side in other ways. That doesn’t happen if we spend a lot of our time insulting them (publicly or otherwise).

2) We have a bad reputation.

We do. And what I said above still applies here. When you think about the most famous atheists — known to people beyond our community — the ones who immediately come to my mind are comedians (who mock religion) and authors (who criticize religion). All of that has it’s place, no doubt, but whenever possible, we need to promote and support voices who are tough to dislike. It’s tough to find Neil deGrasse Tyson-types who can reach out to multiple kinds of audiences without necessarily alienating them while talking about atheism (which Tyson doesn’t do). But the more people like that in the public eye, the tougher it is to pretend we’re all evil and immoral.

3) Too many people think God and morality go together.

That’s unfortunately true as well. Once again, this is a matter of stressing our Humanism: That not believing in God or an afterlife compels us to act certain ways right now. We have to fight for civil rights and against injustice because it’s not like these things will all get sorted out after we die.

Already, there have been advertising campaigns stressing how we’re “good without God,” though a catchy slogan is no match for tangible actions. That means more volunteering, more charity work, and being on the front lines on issues where religion gets it wrong.

4) We dismiss religious groups that might otherwise be natural allies on a host of church/state separation issues.

I’ve definitely experienced this, but that’s changing. That’s why Foundation Beyond Belief always includes an organization run by (non-proselytizing) religious groups in our slate of charities each quarter. That’s why the Secular Student Alliance has done more work recently with the Interfaith Youth Core. That’s why I’m a firm believer that achieving our common goals is more of a priority than debating who’s right, whether we’re supporting progressive churches for being LGBT inclusive or joining religious leaders in protests when we see racial inequality.

5) We have to stop being the “others.”

Krattenmaker is saying that most people still don’t know any open atheists, and that makes it a lot easier to demonize us. That’s why events like Openly Secular Day are so important, and why I just love to see people using new media to speak out about their non-belief. They’re using YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and their campus groups to send messages to strangers who may not know what freethought looks like. This is such a huge change from a couple of decades ago, and it’s only going to get better on this front in the future.

To be sure, those aren’t the only challenges we face, but they’re pretty accurate from a broad public perspective. I’m an optimist about all of them. When you considering how much worse things were for us, on all five fronts, a few decades ago, it’s incredible how far we’ve come. The path ahead of us looks bright.

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. He is a former National Board Certified high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago, where he taught for for seven years. Hemant has appeared on CNN and FOX News Channel (really). He currently serves on the board of directors for Foundation Beyond Belief (a charity organization targeting non-theistic donors) after spending several years as the chair of the board of the Secular Student Alliance (which creates and supports college atheist groups nationwide). He is the author of three books, including I Sold My Soul on eBay (WaterBrook Press, 2007) and The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide (Patheos Press, 2012). You can reach him at Mpromptu@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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A Bishop’s Resignation Puts All Eyes on Chile

Catholic Bishop Charged
Tammy Ljungblad—AP Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph appears during a bench trial Sept. 6, 2012 at the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Mo.

The Vatican’s announcement that Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Missouri, was just one line, released in Tuesday’s daily press bulletin. The only reason given was a provision of canon law that allows bishops to resign early due to illness or another grave cause. But everybody knew the real punch: this was the first time a pope took public action against a priest who covered up sexual abuse.

Today’s Francis fever and sky-high favorability ratings makes it easy to forget just how deeply the story of priestly sexual abuse has defined the Catholic Church in recent decades. The legacy of the scandals in the United States alone is beyond weighty — a 2004 USCCB report detailed the severity of the crisis nationwide — more than 4,000 priests faced more than 10,000 allegations of child sexual abuse from 1950-2002, with half the alleged victims between the ages of 11-14. Dioceses have shelled out millions, and in some cases hundreds of millions, of dollars to settle cases.

For many victims and Vatican watchers, Tuesday’s announcement was a long time in coming, especially since Francis made it clear from the beginning that his papacy would have a zero-tolerance policy. In February 2014, Catholics petitioned Pope Francis to take disciplinary action against Finn. Pope Francis launched an investigation into Finn in September, and in November, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who leads the Church sex abuse commission, said that the Vatican needed to “urgently” address Finn’s case. This past weekend, Irish abuse survivor and member of the sex abuse commission Marie Collins told the Catholic news site Crux, “I cannot understand how Bishop Finn is still in position, when anyone else with a conviction that he has could not run a Sunday school in a parish. He wouldn’t pass a background check.”

It is one thing for Francis to accept the resignation of a bishop who mishandled abuse allegations. It is another for him to appoint and defend one who has long been associated with similar scandal. Protests erupted in January when Francis announced he was appointing Bishop Juan Barros to lead a Chilean diocese. Barros has long been accused of covering up the sexual abuse committed by his mentor, Rev. Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican found guilty of in 2011. Members of the sex abuse commission have been speaking out in concern in this case as well. “It goes completely against what he (Francis) has said in the past about those who protect abusers,” Collins told the AP last month. “The voice of the survivors is being ignored.”

The Vatican made clear its position on the Barros appointment three weeks ago in another one-sentence statement: “The Congregation for Bishops carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”

The lesson of Kansas City is that the Vatican takes covering up abuse seriously. Chile is the next test.

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